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Introduction: Nationalisms and Their Understandings in Historical Perspective

Radhika Desai
Third World Quarterly
Vol. 29, No. 3, Developmental and Cultural Nationalisms (2008), pp. 397-428
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20455049
Page Count: 32
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Introduction: Nationalisms and Their Understandings in Historical Perspective
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Abstract

This introduction provides the historical and intellectual historical context for our thesis of the transition from developmental to cultural nationalisms. After settling issues of definition and periodisation in relation to nations, nationalisms and the international order, I outline how, in all the main phases in the three-century long birth of the international world out of one of empires, capitalist and precapitalist, in tandem with the spread of capitalism (and initially, imperialism), nations and nationalisms were understood and, often revealingly, misunderstood. Three main distorting factors accounted for the misunderstandings: 1) the implication of nations and nationalisms in the spread of capitalism was ignored; 2) their role, in comparison with imperialism, the other major geopolitical dynamic of the past few centuries, was underestimated; and 3) capitalism was understood, one-sidedly, as a universalising force, a prejudice reinforced by imperialism (especially when it was largely the imperialism of one country, England, in the 19th century). The universal Enlightenment intellectual temper also played a role and it is not surprising, in retrospect, that scholarship on nationalism burgeoned precisely at the time, in the last third of the 20th century, when attention to difference and particularity and the questioning of universal thinking became the leading intellectual trend. This scholarship, however, only accentuated the dominant tendency to understand nations culturally, in separation from political economy and it proved unable to stall the force of the mistaken 'globalisation' thesis about the decline of nations and nationalisms. Throughout this discussion critical insights which more-or-less escaped these distortions and detected the intertwining of culture and political economy in nationalism are noted.

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